The three bidding consortia on the shortlist consist of UK rail experts working in partnership with companies who already operate high speed rail networks globally. First Trenitalia is a pairing of First Rail and Trenitalia SpA, which runs high speed networks in Italy; MTR West Coast Partnership consists of a joint venture between MTR Corporation (UK) and Guangshen Railway, based in Hong Kong, which runs high speed services in China; and finally the West Coast Partnership includes Virgin and Stagecoach who already run the West Coast Main Line, who have partnered with SNCF, the French state-owned rail provider.
The winning bidder will be responsible for running the West Coast Main Line from 2019, and will work with HS2 Ltd to design, launch and operate the initial HS2 services between London and Birmingham from 2026, delivering a transitional timetable and then optimising parallel services once HS2 is operational. In addition, the winning bidder will also collaborate on the design of new rolling stock, currently the subject of a separate procurement process.
The government reports that passenger numbers have more than doubled since the privatisation of the railways twenty years ago, and hope that the West Coast Partnership franchise will support growth and better service on the West Coast Main Line initially, and eventually ensure that HS2 becomes the backbone of Britain’s railway network. HS2 should ensure more seats, better connections and free up space on existing lines, whilst generating jobs and economic growth across the country. The contract is expected to be awarded in November 2018.